DIFFERENT SHADES OF JUSTICE
Four years later...
Diego sighed as he finally got a brief moment for himself. That whole evening, people had swarmed around him; the women smiled at him and offered their congratulations while the men patted him on the back. It was tiring after a while, but he couldn't deny that he was very happy.
He retreated into the shadows at the patio and observed the guests that were conversing in the garden. The evening had already turned into a night, and the lanterns they had set up left a few areas shrouded in darkness. Though he hadn't had much of a need for it lately, Diego was still an expert at hiding in the shadows.
Life has been so good to me, he thought contently. Back when he had ridden as Zorro almost every night, he had often feared that he would never get the chance to lead the life he wanted. Now he had that and more.
"There you are, Diego," came a sudden voice to his left, and he turned around to face his father. "Trying to escape your responsibilities already?"
"Just catching my breath. I'm still not used to being at the centre of attention like this."
Alejandro chuckled. "Then you had better learn fast. Who knows when you'll be the head of the family."
"Hopefully not for a long time yet," Diego said. He wasn't worried. His father wasn't showing any signs of getting slowed down by age.
"Has Lolita already retired for the night?" Alejandro asked.
"Yes, it was getting a little bothersome for her, and I don't think she can stand to be down here when Emelina has already fallen asleep," Diego said. He couldn't really blame Lolita. If it hadn't been rude, he would have also gone upstairs already. He liked children, but it was still a mystery how he could be so drawn to one who was his own flesh and blood.
Little Emelina was an answer to many of his prayers. He had always wanted children, but it was more than that. The situation in San Tasco had been unstable even after Raymond's downfall, so he and Lolita had been careful after their marriage, not wanting to bring a child to the world when they couldn't be certain of tomorrow. Then things had steadily got better, and Zorro was no longer needed.
At first Diego had thought he would miss the adventures and rush of excitement he got from engaging in battle with his enemies, but one look into his daughter's eyes had made him appreciate the new peaceful San Tasco. At the same time, it made him more determined than ever to protect his secret identity and skills. If anything ever threatened Emelina's happiness in San Tasco, Zorro would ride again.
"Don Alejandro, come quickly! The army is here."
A man hurried to them, an urgent look on his face. He was Rico Figueira, a blacksmith who had moved to town two years earlier. He and Alicia were married and expecting their second child, which was why she wasn't present at the party.
"Oh, is it Gonzales? I thought he wouldn't be able to make it," Diego said.
Rico took a step back, startled and obviously only now noticing that Diego was there as well.
"No, it's someone else. There are two of them."
Alejandro and Diego glanced at each other. This was strange, but not necessarily a reason to worry. The new commander had proven to be somewhat eccentric, but he was very fair in his actions.
"I'll take care of it," Diego decided. His father tried to object, but Diego reminded him that it was better they didn't make the other guests worried. If they both marched to the entrance, the others would surely notice it.
He walked to the main gate, getting a few more smiles and words of congratulations on his way. At first it didn't look like there was anyone there, and he began to wonder if Rico wasn't playing a stupid trick on him. Then he noticed the figures of two men and horses further away on the road.
"Hello?" he called out to them, wondering why men from the army felt the need to hide like this.
"Diego," one of the men said, and Diego instantly recognised the voice.
"Teo!" he called out, running to greet his friend even before the name had died on his lips. When he reached him, he pulled him into an embrace that nearly sent them to the ground. The other man had to grab the reins of Teo's startled horse.
"Careful," Teo said with laughter in his voice.
"When did you get back? You should have sent a letter," Diego said. Teo hadn't written often, only once or twice a year, but Diego had been overjoyed by each letter. They had shown that Teo was still alive.
"That's because this was a surprise even for me. To be honest, I'm not even supposed to be here. We're on our way north, and it was only after much bribing that I managed to convince Montavez to make this little side trip," Teo said.
At these words, Diego turned to look at the other man. Like Teo, he was wearing a uniform. It was a little difficult to see his features in the dark, but he could make out the angular face and the serious line of his mouth.
"Lieutenant Montavez," the man said.
"Nice to meet you," Diego said, but all he got as a reply was a nod. Since it didn't look like he would get much else out of this man, he turned his attention back to Teo. "How long are you staying? We have so much to talk about."
"Not for long. As I said, we aren't supposed to be here. We need at least a day to get back to where we should be right now. We can lie and say we got delayed for a while, but any longer than that and someone will get suspicious," Teo said.
"That's better than nothing. Come, we're celebrating. You must both join us."
"No, I don't think that's such a good idea," Teo said, and Diego was sure he could hear a hint of anxiousness in his voice.
"It's been four years. Things are different now."
"People don't forget."
"And we don't want to attract attention," Montavez added.
"At the very least I want you to slip inside for a glass of wine with me. I won't accept a no," Diego said. He had to talk to Teo and see him in better light. There was so much that had happened; he didn't want to waste any more time standing on the road in the dark.
"Do you know how to get us past the guests?" Teo asked.
Diego laughed. "Do you even need to ask?"
Teo chuckled, but Montavez didn't share their amusement. Diego supposed he couldn't find any humour in the situation, not knowing that he was Zorro. That he had been Zorro, he reminded himself. Now he was a husband and a father.
Diego led the two officers into the garden and then into the house through a servants' entrance. He took them to the kitchen in case any guests decided to wander in and went back outside to tell his father that there was no need to worry.
"If I were you, I'd be worried about letting officers into Maria's kitchen, but I trust you know what you're doing," Alejandro said and promised to keep the guests entertained.
Once back in the kitchen, Diego had the chance to take a better look at Teo. The years in New Granada hadn't been easy on him; there were tired lines and even a fading scar on his face. However, his eyes were shining with laid-back amusement that put most of Diego's worries at ease. Even after the years, Teo was like he remembered him.
Lieutenant Montavez didn't make a much more favourable impression in better light. He was tall and had sand-coloured hair that was ruffled and messy after the day's travel. At first glance, he appeared tired. Then Diego noticed how stiff he stood and how he looked like he would have rather been anywhere else.
I wonder what's wrong with him, he mused. Maybe he had a guilty conscience about letting Teo come to see him against orders.
"What are you celebrating?" Teo asked as Diego handed him a glass of wine.
"My daughter was born two weeks ago," Diego said. No matter how many times he said that, the feeling of pride in his chest never faded.
"Really? That's wonderful! Congratulations!" Teo said and raised the glass. "And how is Lolita?"
"She's the one who did all the work, but she's taking all this far better than I am," Diego said with a chuckle. He noted that the mention of his family had softened Montavez's face somewhat. The man managed half a smile as he offered his congratulations.
The next few moments were filled with friendly chat about the party and Teo and Montavez's journey, but Diego couldn't bring himself to enjoy most of it. He needed to talk to Teo about Raymond's downfall and everything that had happened before and after it, but as long as Montavez was there, they couldn't speak freely.
After a while, he could no longer take it. "I need to talk to you about something in private."
"I know," Teo said. He put his glass on the table and turned to his companion. "This might take a while."
Montavez let out a hum of acknowledgement and nodded. He took the side door and exited to the garden, glancing at them over his shoulder as he left.
"I don't think your friend likes me very much," he said.
"He's a little reserved, and it takes time before he learns to trust people."
"Did you serve together in New Granada?"
"Yes, and now we're both getting commissioned at San Vittorio. I'll do my best to visit you and Lolita sometime. If you will allow it, that is," Teo said.
"Of course I'll allow it! Why wouldn't I? I will invite you if you don't have the good sense to come here on your own," Diego replied.
"That's one worry off my list, then. Next I would like to apologize for not telling you anything in my letters. There wasn't much that would have interested you and a lot that I didn't want to talk about."
Diego nodded. He could understand that, even if he had often been frustrated by the lack of news from New Granada. Every time he had heard of a battle or any trouble there, he had wondered if something had happened to Teo and if that was the reason why no letters were coming.
"You didn't have to write to entertain me. I only wanted to know that you were alright."
"I had everything arranged so that Montavez would send word if anything happened to me."
"I was sometimes worried that you were trying to distance yourself from me because of everything that happened. I hope my letters were reassuring enough," Diego said. He had written pages upon pages about his life and how he wanted Teo to come back as soon as he could.
Teo let out a short laugh. "They were, but you have no idea how much trouble I got into because of your letters."
"What do you mean?" Diego asked in confusion.
"It's not important. I'll tell you one day," Teo said.
"Then tell me something that is important," Diego suggested.
"Where do you want me to start?"
"Anywhere you like."
"I hope you aren't expecting my detailed memoirs. That has to wait until I'm old and grey and have been promoted at least four times."
"It's a complete mystery to me what you've been doing these past years, so anything is fine."
"Right, well... My commission in New Granada was the best thing that ever happened to me. In more ways than one," Teo said. He leaned back against the kitchen counter and turned his eyes to his feet. "You can't imagine how troubled I was when I left San Tasco. I felt that everything I had started here was left unfinished. Most people never learnt why I had acted the way I did. I never got to know your family and friends that well. We never talked things through. I wasn't properly punished for my actions. It was the same thing that happened in Spain; I was just running away and leaving unsolved problems behind."
"But it wasn't your fault," Diego pointed out.
Teo smiled briefly. "Yes, it was. I should have listened to you. There were better ways to fight Raymond, but I thought I could atone for my actions in Spain by being reckless and daring here."
Diego wasn't sure what to say. It was true; they could have avoided most of their problems by taking another route. He had seen how much it had hurt Teo to act against his morals, but his friend hadn't been entirely wrong. It had been the fastest way.
"True, and I would choose a different path if I could go back. You had to go through too much alone," Diego said. He paused and considered his words, not sure if Teo would take them as an insult. "But I must thank you. If you hadn't done all that, we might not have defeated Raymond without bigger problems. Maybe I wouldn't be here celebrating the birth of my daughter then."
Teo opened his mouth to answer, but Diego continued before he could get a word in.
"I owe you so much that I'm ashamed to think about how good my life is and how much you've had to go through. I can't help but think that I should have done more to help you four years ago. I hope you can forgive me for that I didn't," he said.
"But there's nothing to forgive. I made every decision myself, and I knew what the consequences were," Teo said. The certainty in his eyes soothed Diego's worries somewhat; whatever had happened in New Granada, it had made Teo look more like the man he had known in university.
"Besides, it's better this way. New Granada wasn't an easy place to serve, but it taught me much. I have finally found some of the answers I was looking for," Teo continued.
"And what are they?" Diego asked.
"I'm not sure I can explain that. You might disagree with me, but I feel that this is the right way for me," Teo said. "I'm mostly talking about my actions in Spain. Most people would say that the right thing to do would be returning there to face the consequences of what I've done. At first I thought so as well, but I've changed my mind."
Diego nodded, feeling relieved and wary at the same time. He didn't want to see Teo hang, no matter what he had done, but he also couldn't simply close his eyes from what his actions.
"I know that what I did can never be undone, and I can't make it up for those who suffered because of me. That won't change if I die. I believe it's worth more if I try to reach my original goal and use the army to help the people," Teo said.
He looked at Diego with sudden wariness on his face. "Maybe my decision is selfish. Perhaps it's motivated by fear of death. However, it wasn't an easy one to make. I will never forget what I've done and will carry the burden of that with me for the rest of my life," he said.
Teo didn't continue, so Diego realised that he wanted him to say something.
"Are you waiting for my judgement?" he asked.
"All I want to know is whether you'll still have me as a friend now that you know what I'm planning to do," Teo replied.
"Of course I will!"
"Then you don't think I'm running from my just fate?"
Diego had thought much about that over the past years. As Zorro, it had been his chosen path to bring criminals to justice. Wasn't it hypocritical of him to close his eyes from Teo had done? It was the first time someone he cared about was guilty of something so terrible, and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't find a course of action that felt right.
"I don't want to lose a friend, but it's also very difficult for me to accept that unnecessary death would go unpunished. Justice is the same for everyone," he said. From the way Teo was gritting his teeth, Diego could tell that hearing this was painful, but there was also acceptance in his eyes. He had known to expect such an answer.
"However," Diego continued, "Zorro rides in California. Zorro doesn't know any of the details. Zorro will probably never go to Spain. I don't feel like I'm in the position to demand justice for something that doesn't concern me in any way. We don't need to mention any of this again after tonight."
Teo relaxed visibly and let out a shaky chuckle as he ran his fingers through his hair. "Thank you," he said. "That means more to me than you can imagine."
"We should talk about something happier. We haven't seen each other in four years," Diego said.
"If it weren't so late, I'd love to see your daughter. I hope she looks more like Lolita than you," Teo said.
"Hard to tell at this point, but she has her eyes," Diego said with a laugh.
"I'll see for myself next time."
"So, you're off to San Vittorio, then."
"Yes. It's probably a good idea if we don't stay here even for the night. I think Montavez is physically hurt by every second we spend here."
"Is he always that worried about everything?" Diego asked.
Teo laughed, but Diego thought there was something sorrowful about it. "No, but he has his reasons to be wary this time. I haven't been able to convince him that they're completely misguided, but maybe that'll change after tonight."
"Does he have something against my family?" Diego asked. He couldn't recall them ever having any contact with anyone called Montavez, but maybe the feud was older than him.
"No, it's nothing like that. He's just a little frightened. But you don't need to concern yourself with that," Teo said.
Diego frowned in puzzlement at these cryptic words, but he decided not to dwell on them. He was far too happy to have Teo back safe to care about such things. Besides, he knew better than well what it was like to have a secret you couldn't tell even to those you trusted the most.
"Alright. Maybe you'll tell me one day," he said.
Teo glanced towards the door. "I should probably get going. Your guests must be curious about where you are, and Montavez and I need to travel through most of the night to make up for the time we lost coming here."
"I wish it didn't have to be so quick, but I'm happy to just know that you're alright."
Diego accompanied Teo outside. They found Montavez leaning against one of the trees with his hands crossed behind his head. He turned to look when they arrived.
"Done?" he asked.
"Yes, we can get going," Teo said. He turned once more to Diego and said how happy he was that everything was resolved between them. Diego had thought they were already finished, but he realised that Teo was only saying that to show Montavez that there was no bad blood between them.
Maybe the man had realised that they were talking about something serious and had been worried that everything might end in an argument. If so, he was probably a better friend to Teo than Diego had at first assumed.
He walked the two men back to the road and made Teo promise that he'd come to visit them as soon as his duties allowed it.
On a whim, he turned to Montavez and added, "That includes you, too, Lieutenant. Any friend of Teo's is always welcome with us."
"Thank you. I'll consider it."
The two men took off. Diego remained standing on the road long after they had disappeared into the darkness. He could feel that there was a lot that had remained unsaid. From the depths of his mind, he suddenly recalled vague rumours that he had heard at the university in Madrid but which he had always ignored.
He hummed thoughtfully. Then he decided it was none of his business and turned around to return to the party.
And that's the end of the story. I had a great time, and I hope reading it was at least half as much fun as writing it was for me. Thanks to everyone who read the story!
Some of you might feel that the epilogue raised more questions than it answered. I wanted to give the impression that the story about defeating Raymond has come to an end but that there is still room for other adventures and mystery in Diego and Teo's lives. I might write a few side-stories or even a sequel, so I also wanted to leave the door open with a few sketchy details.